Simulation; something that’s been at the heart of gaming from the start. From simulated Ping-Pong to simulated warfare to simulated life itself, it’s been a central theme through the medium’s history. Gamers these days seem to desire simulated versions of everything, with decent sales figures trending for football management, trucking and farming simulations alike. However, no matter which way you look at it, each of these various simulations have one goal, the accumulation of wealth.
And Wealth comes from trading goods or services. That’s where the Patrician series came in. A historical trading simulation series set in northern Europe; it set the bar for the subgenre and spawned a successful series by emphasising the building of a trade empire and accumulation of money, real estate and goods across a variety of locations. From this success, from the same developer, came a similar game based in the Caribbean, Port Royale. The company responsible, Ascaron Entertainment, folded in 2009, with these assets sold to Kalypso Media and many former staff incorporated into their Gaming Minds studio, who continue to build on these old IP successfully.
Here’s where Rise of Venice comes in; set in the 15th Century Renaissance period, Rise of Venice is unsurprisingly a trade and economy simulation based in the canalled city and across the Mediterranean, created by that same team. Emphasising the building and maintenance of a family trading business, the central concept is one of buying low, selling high, and rising up the ranks of the Venetian Senate. Created by veterans of the genre, will Rise of Venice turn out to be a stand-out example of everything they’ve achieved, or simply a re-done version of the same old game?
At its simplest, it goes like this; you sail to a city, buy goods which there is an excess of, sail to another city which lacks them and sell for a profit. Rinse and repeat. This formula works, and has worked for years. The execution of trading within Rise of Venice is good, as it should be. Whilst at first it’s a little difficult to perfect, once you get it you get it. The actual interface is slick and responsive, styled well in regards to the subject matter and incredibly functional. Sailing between cities is as simple as a single click, with interaction within cities done through a radial menu.
Cities themselves are nicely executed, with models on the game-map reflecting structures faithfully. If the radial menu isn’t to your taste you can simply click on individual buildings to reach their menu, which is a refreshing touch.Excelling graphically, the visual style should be applauded both in the general game and within cut scenes. Each city is distinct and well-crafted. On the whole the world is colourful and detailed, with little, much appreciated touches such as fish and smoke bringing the aesthetic together. There’s an interesting line between attractive period detail and meta-game info-graphic which is well-trod with use of colour coding and flags. All in all, the map itself is more dynamic than ones found in similar products, although the sheer fact that it is very much still a top-down map rather than an expanded world is very much apparent. Camera rotation would have alleviated the problem, though it is but a small complaint in the scale of things.
There are two aspects which really set Rise of Venice apart from its predecessors, both very much linked to the setting. Firstly, Advancement though the ranking system is tied intrinsically to your relationships with the various ranking Venetian families. Doge elections and the approval of the senate are central to everything, limiting the convoys you can maintain and the actual goods you can trade from the start. This adds a new level of political intrigue to the tried and tested formulas inherent in the actual gameplay, with the fulfilment of certain criteria and missions necessary for progression up the social ladder. As you complete side objectives through various means, your reputation changes with different factions and your presence begins to be felt. Examples of such actions include bribery, building useful public services, thievery, seduction and defence.
Whilst an interesting change, the inclusion of the social progression is a double-edged sword. Some would argue that it is a deeper look at aspects affecting merchants of the era, which adds variety to the trading, whilst others would suggest it distracts from the numbers-game of carefully trading stock and arbitrarily limits freedom from the start. With more depth to it, the social system could have been substantially improved, but as it is it still functions as a meaningful way to progress.
What I do love about Rise of Venice is the premise of playing not just as a single character, but as a family. Your convoys are often led by your cousins, uncles, and other family members. Those who don’t sail can be used for other means, helping out cities in peril and improving relations for example. The fact that a full family tree can be viewed is central to making you feel connected to these people, adding personality to what otherwise could have ended up as a rather detached experience.
At the end of the day, Rise of Venice is a very particular kind of game which is not going to appeal to everyone. The pace is slow in comparison to most games of this generation, however fans of the genre have something very special to find here. There is enough depth to appease those who love the numbers game beneath trading sims, and enough difference to make it worthy of a purchase, with the whole experience feeling very much rooted in the historical setting.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.